Killings: Do Nigerian lives still matter?

Mass Atrocities Casualties Tracking 2019 Report by Global Rights Nigeria has left many at a loss as to the country’s fate in the face of growing crime and wanton loss of lives and property with the ever expanding frontiers of insecurity in the country. BENJAMIN UMUTEME x-rays the report and asks: Do Nigerian lives still matter?

Nigerians from all works of life have been left reeling from the effect of the level of insecurity that has continued to pervade every nook and cranny of the country.

What many initially thought was confined to the North-east in the form of insurgency and banditry has spread to almost all part of the country. Not a day goes by without one reading about a violent incident that resulted in the loss of life.

The report

The group of journalists who had gathered at the venue of the launch of the Mass Atrocities Casualties Tracking 2019 Report by Global Rights Nigeria were left sober after listening to the executive secretary Abiodun Baiyewu read the report.

It indicated that 3188 lives were lost between January and December 2019 to gang clashes, extra-judicial killings, resource crises, kidnappings and, Boko-Haram or ISWAP attacks.

Out of that number, 2707 were civilians, while 481 were state security agents. In other words, for every 5.5 deaths recorded, at least 1 of them was of a security officer.

The report further revealed that Borneo state remained the state with the highest number of fatalities in the North-east with 728 deaths, closely followed by Zamfara state in the North-west which recorded 450 deaths.

Kaduna had 280, Katsina 254, Taraba 181, Rivers 176, Benue 167, Niger 100, Sokoto 90, and Kogi 88. Abia state, however, was the least impacted, with one death recorded.

Further breakdown


In January 2019, Nigeria took off to a bad start as the data indicated that at least 208 persons were killed from incidents related to: Boko Haram/ ISWAP attacks, banditry, pastoralist conflicts, kidnappers, and violence perpetrated by rival political party affiliates.

Disaggregated, at least 156 civilians, 49 soldiers, two police officers and 1 naval officer were killed.


In February, at least 238 persons died. A fair number of the violent incidences nationwide were attributable to the acrimoniously contested Presidential elections. Other violent incidents recorded were: farmer/ herder crisis, Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks, rival gang clashes, political related violence and banditry.

Disaggregated, at least 213 civilians 21 soldiers and four police officers were killed.


In March, at least 276 people were killed in violent incidents across the nation. These occurred largely with the background of the state level elections which were held that month, and about 45 per cent of these deaths were incidental to this.

Other incidents include herdsmen attacks, banditry, isolated attacks, communal wars, Boko-Haram/ISWAP attacks and mob actions.

The spike in killings attributable to elections is indicative of the quality of candidates, which defines the kind of support their followers provide.

The ‘over securitisation’ of elections by the government itself also aggravates tensions and distrust in the polity resulting in violence.


In April, at least 412 people were killed. In that month, we observed a shocking rise in the number of deaths resulting from the menace of ‘bandits’ that had widened their dragnets beyond Zamfara, Katsina, and Katsina states to other parts of the North, distressing residents, and dislodging them from their towns and villages.

Incidents of abductions, extrajudicial killings, Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks, cult clashes, and post electoral violence were also recorded.


May 2019 recorded at least 310 deaths including the extra-judicial killings of citizens by security forces in different parts of the country.

Iconic at the period was the brutal murder of Mr. Kolade Johnson by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force in Lagos state.

Security forces also suffered losses. At least seven military bases in the North-east were overrun by Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents and at least 53 Nigerian soldiers lost their lives in the unfortunate incidents.

Other deaths resulted from the herdsmen/farmer resource crises, banditry, and cult/gang clashes. In these attacks, the carnage of properties were difficult to document.


The month of June recorded the highest number of deaths with at least 504 lives lost. Of this number, at least 51 were security agents, 42 soldiers, five police officers, three NSCDC Officers and one custom officer.

Banditry and extrajudicial killings moved at an incremental pace westward, affecting communities in Niger and Kogi states.

The report noted the correlation between the federal government’s announcement of RUGA settlement programmes, and the sudden upsurge of violence in Benue state that had hitherto assumed relative quiet, especially with the deployment of “Operation Whirlstroke” in the Benue Valley.

However, the Gyenku killings and the clash which occurred between farmers and herders in Agatu were the only incidents of mass violence on record for the period, which suggests that the federal military operation in Benue was relatively effective in suppressing killings.


In July, there were at least 251 deaths from violent clashes. While ethno-religious violence wreaked havoc on the Benue Valley region, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, some states in the southern region of the country struggled with rival gang clashes, Rivers, Lagos, Delta, and Bayelsa states.

There was also the spread of the ‘banditry’ phenomenon beyond Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states, to other parts of the North-western region, particularly Kebbi and Sokoto states.


In August there were at least 312 casualties from mass atrocities across the country. The casualties recorded were from extra-judicial killings perpetrated by security personnel, banditry, and terrorism.

Of particularly tragic note was the extra-judicial killing by officers of the Nigerian Army of three Police officers in Taraba state on a covert mission to arrest a notorious kidnapper.

Given the exponential rise in kidnap cases across the country, Baiyewu said the organisation we considered it important to also begin to track this phenomenon as well.

Kidnappings in 2019 became more commercial in nature. Victims were targeted or randomly kidnapped in both urban and rural settings, and on highways. The infamous Kaduna-Abuja Highway constituted a hotspot for abductions, in spite of several security checkpoints along the length of the road. The North-west has also suffered from this phenomenon for close to a year, particularly in Katsina and Zamfara states. There were also elements of political kidnappings earlier in year around the election season. Most troubling however, was the seeming helplessness of security forces to stem the tide.

“We found it difficult to track records about victims with no follow up news on their status, except in cases which involved public figures.

“Some were released, a few escaped, and some were killed even after the ransom had been paid,” she said.


In September at least 260 persons across 26 states died in incidents of violence including: serial killings, banditry, herders’ attacks; gang clashes, extrajudicial killings, Boko Haram attacks etc.

A highlight for September was the arrest of a serial killer identified as Gracious David West who had left a trail of 15 female victims in hotel rooms across Port Harcourt.

In October at least 179 persons were killed. We noted that the number of incidents related to isolated killings and random abduction in highways, urban and rural areas decreased by a considerable margin, compared to the month of September; however, the regular pattern of banditry and terrorism within Zamfara state, North-west Nigeria persisted.


In November, there were at least 112 deaths, some of which were related to electoral violence occasioned in the run up to, during, and after the Kogi and Bayelsa rerun elections.

There were at least 126 casualties in December, from an assortment of the reasons listed in previous months. 117 abduction incidents were also recorded.

Danger in killing security personnel

The executive secretary noted that the number of death recorded was slightly lower compared to 2018 that had 3,428 deaths, a difference of 240.

She also noted that in the number of security personnel killed portend grave implication for the country as the service weapons of the killed officers are rarely recovered and are most times taken away by their assailants.

“There is a rise in kidnappings that suggests that ransoms have become a major source of funding for both the insurgency in North-eastern Nigeria and for banditry in the North-west.”

Additionally, the pattern of attacks on security personnel and formations was consistent with the conclusion that the attackers rearm themselves with weapons stolen from overrunning security outposts or killing security personnel. She noted that the report began to document kidnappings in August, therefore cannot provide an aggregate for 2019, however, as in previous years, the group was unable to track number for the wounded, people who became disabled, the number of people displaced, and cost of property lost, as a result of these atrocities.

According to her, because of the tendency to report only aggregated numbers, they were also unable to disaggregate based on age or gender.

“From the foregoing figures, it is apparent that Nigeria’s threshold for violence is very high. Its hard core impact on the security and social wellbeing of both civilian and security populations can only be imagined. It brings to mind Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution which provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” she explained.

While she called for an overhaul of Nigeria’s security architecture, the executive secretary pointed out that raids of triggers continue to fuel the situation.

According to her, arms and light weapons, impunity, and resource governance continue to drive violence upwards.

“The proliferation of small arms and light weapons across Nigeria is worrisome Elections are getting more violent: Politics in Nigeria is still a game of “win at all cost, or lose at your peril, no retreat, no surrender,” incentivising violence. “This was evident in the 2019 general elections, in which security agents freely took sides in violence. In the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections at the end of the year, small arms and light weapons were freely deployed.

“Revisiting incentives for public office and citizens’ participation in governance is therefore imperative. Communities’ distrust of government’s willingness, and more recently power to protect them from aggression has also contributed to Nigeria’s underground arms market.

“Finally, porous borders facilitate their easy import. Number of out of school children, Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world. A pointer for unskilled human resources and a future of low productivity and unemployment, drivers for poverty and crime,” she added.

Structural fault at play

Also, speaking on the death of 481 security personnel in 2019 to mass conflicts the Convener Protest to Power, Jaye Gaskia, said the high numbers was a clear sign that there were “really very serious structural fault at play.”

He said, “If you take the security figures, we don’t have enough security personnel, in the first instance it is irrecoverable loss that you cannot recover in developmental terms. This is why it is significant; this is why it is important that the country actually take it serious as a people and as a government there is a need for us to change the way we address these issues.

“It is clear from the report that you have a correlation between poverty and mass atrocities; you can see a correlation between deprecation, anger and mass atrocities.

“If we don’t address those challenges there is no number of security that we can throw at the crisis that will solve it. What will happen is that we confirm the crisis and we suffer more security casualties if we don’t address the issues,” he added.

Deliberate undercounting

On his part, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, while noting that the number of security personnel killed was sometimes not documented as killed but as missing in action, insisted that military authorities most times deliberately undercount the figures.

He also attributed the growing issues of insecurity in the country to the problem of governance. According to him, the killing in the country is about ungovernable territories saying that “except the government addresses the issue of ungoverned space the security problem will not end.

“To get yourself announced as a winner of an election but when we have issues of insecurity you invite us to prayers. We have a crisis of governance and misplaced priorities,” he stressed.

He added that the land mass was massive and because government’s presence was not there, different groups began to act as government. 

What is the value of lives of Nigerians?

Speaking with an emotion laden voice rights activist Aisha Yesufu queried: “What is the value of lives of Nigerians?”

According to her, Nigerians have been docile for a long time resorting rather to prayers rather than demanding their right to safe life from the government.

She said: “We go on with our business as if nothing is happening in our country. Yesterday’s victims were once survivors.

“Why are we okay with the situation that we have, why are we with those that have been mandated to protect the lives of our citizens that are not doing that?

“We must all say enough is enough! Prayers don’t stop bullets. We must demand from our government that they begin indeed to protect lives and properties.

“If we don’t demand they will give us what comes first, bad governance. The life of the President is equal to that of every one of us.”

The question on the lips of many is whether Nigeria can surmount the security challenges facing it and become a safe haven for development. 

“We believe so, but we also know that it will take a great deal of political will, trust building across ethnic, religious, class and other interest groups.

“It will also take addressing historical violence and injustices, and making clear attempts at remedying them,” Global Rights further stated in the report.

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